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Disability and support: suggestions for teachers, tutors and teaching assistants


Study skills learned during full time education may have a direct impact on employment. For example, we all need to:

  • Gather, store and retrieve information
  • Manage time
  • Organise materials

Listening skills

With greater use of recorded materials, verbal explanations and descriptions listening skills are important and may need to be taught.

Visual skills

Children or young people may also need training to maximise vision. This may include learning to,

  • Scan systematically
  • Discriminate information on the page
  • Look for detail

Extra time

To access information children and young people with low vision need extra time. This can be done by giving the child or young person longer to complete tasks or fewer exercises to consolidate learning.

Study skills

Older children and young people should be encouraged to manage their own time and work independently. This requires a grasp of key study skills and the ability to employ these skills effectively.

Visual information is immediate, versatile and dominates our lives. It is less efficient to access information via:

  • Sound
  • Touch

Study skills help minimise the imbalance. Consequently, study skills should be timetabled and taught as an integral part of the school and college day.


Children and young people should be encouraged to:

  • Plan ahead
  • Set own deadlines
  • Not leave things to the last minute

Understanding and accepting that tasks will often take longer is an important part of learning.

Accessing information

Children and young people require modified or adapted information presented via:

  • Large print
  • Braille
  • MOON
  • Audio format

With imperfect vision using touch or hearing means access to learning is reduced. It is

  • Not so immediate
  • Slower
  • Less flexible

Consequently, strategies may need to be taught.


  • Identify information on a tape before listening
  • Access the blurb on a Braille document before spending time reading the document fully

Time and effort: learning specialist recording skills

To record information a child or young person with low vision often uses:

  • Touch typing
  • Specialist ICT
  • Braille

Learning these skills requires extra time. Inevitably time and effort is taken from other areas where it is also needed.

Braille requires the learning of a different code. Along with touch typing these are skills often learned on top of hand writing and reading standard print: not instead of. The additional work load involved is considerable. It reduces the total time available to develop other skills.

Practical everyday implications

Inevitably a learner with low vision will need more than a pen to record work. If using a word processor, information will need to be saved using for example a USB and then printed off.

If a Brailist, standard teaching practices employed for children and young people fully sighted are further complicated. For example, work will often be recorded on single sheets. Careful storing is therefore required.


  • Title and number pages
  • Store work in clearly marked files
  • Label and store USBs and audio tapes clearly

If this isn’t done, finding lost or mislaid work not only undermines the child or young person’s credibility but searching is also:

  • Time and effort consuming
  • Stressful

Learning to read and write may take longer

Learning to read and write can take longer for children with low vision. This occurs because it takes longer to subconsciously imbed the skills. This stems from difficulties recording the information.

Maintaining concentration and interest

This can be done in several ways:

  • Avoid materials being visually complicated. Complicated learning resources are hard to see
  • Accessing material in large print or a tactile format can be time consuming, hard work and frustrating
  • Modifying and adapting visual information can remove the original benefit
  • Removing visual content can make the information and presentation less interesting


Learning exercises often take longer to access and record. Therefore,

  • Use fewer exercises to consolidate learning
  • Structure work to make fewer points without loosing the overall objective

Avoiding over load

Ultimately, a child or young person may become over loaded if tasks aren’t appropriately differentiated and take account of issues surrounding access and time. This can be avoided by making work less visually challenging and generally more accessible.


  • Reduce content
  • Simplify visual information
  • Removing visual information
  • Rethink tasks to reduce the importance of visual skills and visual clues

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.


In a mainstream setting a teaching assistant experienced and specialising in a specific disability can give a class teacher specialist knowledge and expertise.

On a daily basis s/he can:

  • Advise on the educational implications of a disability
  • Prepare and produce materials
  • Maintain specialist equipment
  • Address the additional needs of a child or young person; for example, daily living skills, orientation and mobility or touch typing

With personal knowledge of a child or young person the TA can advise about personality, the disability in functional terms and accessing information. Of course, this requires structured and quantifiable training.


  • A TA should not be asked to teach a child or young person whilst the class teacher teaches the class
  • Timetabled spaces should be allocated so class teachers have time to discuss with TAs plans for lessons
  • Maximise the benefits of a TA by planning in advance what is going to happen in each lesson
  • Ideally, a teacher should talk to the TA well before the lesson about the materials needed
  • Ask the child or young person about preferences


The aims of a TA involve supporting a child or young person to:

  • Maximise access to the curriculum
  • Minimise difficulties emanating from a child or young person’s disability
  • Ensure the child or young person’s health and safety

Support can be placed under two headings: direct and indirect

Direct support takes place:

  • During practical work
  • By drawing attention to notices and wall displays
  • During out-of-school trips
  • With tasks involving a disability; for example, involving hand eye co-ordination
  • When helping the child or young person organise her or himself
  • Interpreting learning materials

After appropriate training a TA can supervise the child or young person during the practicing of specialist skills. For example,

  • Touch typing
  • Mobility practice and guiding the child or young person where necessary
  • Braille

Indirect support takes place during:

  • Re-writing, enlarging or Brailling the child or young person’s materials
  • Providing in advance copies of black or whiteboard work
  • Ensure the child or young person’s resources and equipment are to hand and working


  • Be continually sensitive to the child or young person’s disability and inability to access the curriculum without assistance
  • Be aware that the child or young person might not be able to see what is written on the board regardless of where s/he sits or the size of writing if information is written on a dirty board
  • Before information is dictated ensure discretely that the child or young person has recording equipment ready
  • Ensure that a child or young person is given enough time to complete a task
  • Ensure that during a lesson activities are verbally described
  • If an overhead projector is used ensure that the child or young person has his or her own copy of images being displayed and, in advance of the lesson
  • Say if facial expressions, hand gestures, nodding or pointing are being used without being expressed verbally too

Poor quality materials, delivered late and in an unsuitable format has a negative impact on learning. Consider what this says to the learner about the support being given.

Too much support

TAs assist children and young people to access lesson content and activities. Sometimes this can mean a TA actually doing the child or young person’s work to avoid the learner falling behind. However, whilst the child or individual may cover the curriculum s/he may not be developing the necessary study skills and incidental learning to achieve independence.


  • If direct involvement cannot be avoided encourage the child or young person to take the initiative and organise work

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.


To highlight issues and make the piece less abstract the disability used is visual impairment. However, the points raised could apply equally to other disability too.

Following are a number of skills and requirements which a TA may need to address when supporting a disabled child.

Planning skills

If meaningful integration is to be achieved planning is required in order to identify the tasks and materials needed to be adapted and modified. A child and young person often needs planning skills.

Life for many with low vision and a disability in general may need to be more organised and regimented than for fully sighted and nondisabled peers. Consequently, a child or young person should not be allowed to develop for example a belief that it is someone else’s responsibility to find and carry materials necessary for lessons.


  • A routine is often needed whereby the child or young person’s responsibilities are clearly defined
  • The teaching of planning skills may be required


Reading and writing is likely to take longer for a child or young person with low vision. Therefore, strategies are required to identify and extract necessary information from a text.


  • Provide structured questions as sign posts for reading which add purpose to the task
  • Record material which a child or young person can listen to when reading the same information. This may help concentration
  • Information read aloud may help a child or young person with low vision to access learning

Organisation and storage

From the beginning children should be encouraged to consistently organise and store materials so they can be accessed independently.

In primary school storage to encourage independence is easier owing to most lessons often taking place in one room.

Later, when a child or young person moves around the school or college much more, a single storage space is often not enough.

During secondary or college education a child or young person may also have to carry and access heavy equipment and books in different learning areas. A suitably positioned storage space for equipment and materials is thereby required.


  • Whether equipment or materials are stored on shelves, in cupboards or draws, everything should be independently accessible to include clear labelling in an accessible format

Resources for reference

Being able to access reference materials independently is extremely important especially during later education.

Information may need to be accessed when using magnification or speech synthesizer. Access can take even longer if a tactile learner. For example,

  • A dictionary, if available, is difficult to physically manage if in Braille or large print. They often consist of many books, subdivided again if in Braille
  • Finding the correct page can be a laborious task before having to then work through the entries to find the required word


  • A reader or electronic dictionary may be a more realistic option

Learning in general

A few considerations:

  • Learning is not only about a result but also experiencing the process
  • Support is justified and sometimes unavoidable but should not be used to compensate for poor study skills or poor lesson preparation
  • Relevant materials should be available in an accessible format before a lesson begins with a child or young person briefed beforehand if necessary about any complications envisaged
  • A child or young person should be able to read and write competently using if necessary ICT
  • Children and young people need to feel confident enough to speak up and express their needs
  • Research activities may be better undertaken in small groups consisting of children or young people with a disability and those nondisabled too
  • If small group work is used equal input and equal membership should occur
  • Children or young people should be taught to view the support of nondisabled peers as part of a relationship and contribute equally

Out of school visits

To achieve equal participation:

  • A venue should be visited beforehand to assess suitability regarding access of information and health and safety issues. A child or young person’s TA should be involved
  • Give advanced notice to venue staff regarding the child or young person’s access needs. Most venues are extremely supportive when allowing for example, a wheel chair user or someone with low vision to view exhibits close up
  • Discuss beforehand how a child or young person can maximise the experience
  • Consider how the child or young person can record the event independently

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Copyright 2020